The Russian military choir that lost most of its singers in a plane crash Sunday is often described as the Kremlin's "singing weapon." The Alexandrov Ensemble, sometimes referred to as the Red Army choir, was founded in the 1920s, reports the AP. It won global fame with its patriotic repertoire during Soviet times, but in recent years sought to cater to modern audiences. Many of its performances have gone viral, including a rousing rendition of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" by singers in full military dress at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Sixty-four members of the ensemble, including director Valery Khalilov, were heading from Sochi to Russia's air base in Syria to perform a New Year's concert for troops when their plane crashed. All 92 people on board are presumed dead. "It's difficult to grasp the scale of that tragedy," Moscow's culture department head said. "They were raising pride for our culture, our country, across the entire world."
As word of the crash spread Sunday, people placed bouquets of flowers outside the ensemble's Moscow headquarters. "We all loved this ensemble," said Moscow resident Mark Novikov. "They are our brothers, our friends, our colleagues." The 186-member ensemble includes a band and a dancing troupe along with the choir that had about 70 singers. Viktor Yeliseyev, head of the rival choir of the Russian National Guard, said most of the Alexandrov Ensemble's singers were on the plane. Among the few who stayed back was soloist Vadim Ananyev, whose wife just delivered a baby. "I feel as if I were hit over the head," he said. "They are telling me now I was born with a silver spoon." Another choir member was denied access to board at the last minute because his passport had expired. Pavel Kogan, director of Moscow State Academic Symphonic Orchestra, called the choir "a symbol of the country. It was impossible to imagine what happened, even in a nightmare."